More Than Words: Classic Quotes from 22 Marketing Experts, and Why They Matter

April 14, 2019

Classic Marketing Quotes

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

You’ve undoubtedly heard this famous Albert Einstein quote before. But here’s the thing: Einstein never said it.

We love great quotes from marketing experts and brilliant business minds. They have the power to inspire us, enlighten us, and make us see things in new ways. But as we scoured the many existing search results for this topic, we found the same thing over and over again: scattered lists of supposedly famous marketing quotes with no real organization and no context.

Many of the remarks in these curated compilations are misattributed, if not unattributed. And that’s problematic because oftentimes, these words of wisdom gain much more meaning and weight because of their source.

So instead of adding to the insanity, we set out to create something new. Below you will find a roundup of 22 quotes from our favorite marketing experts throughout history, with explanations for why they matter to marketers today. And each one is linked to a trusted source of origin so you can verify it for yourself.

Wisdom from Classic Marketing Experts

Ogilvy is known as the “father of advertising.” His 1983 book Ogilvy on Advertising, from which this quote was drawn, endures as one of the definitive texts on the subject. The European ad man was a mind ahead of his time, recognizing earlier than most that effective brand messaging must speak directly to its recipient, rather than being oriented toward the masses.

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"The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself." — Peter F. Drucker

Often referred to as the founder of modern management, Drucker was a forward thinker with a special enlightenment on the subject of business marketing – still a nascent concept when he rose to prominence in the 1940s and ‘50s. Drucker was a pioneer for the idea of customer-centric practices, and helped shape the landscape we operate in today.

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“People buy emotionally, and they justify their decisions intellectually.” — David Sandler

Marketing and sales are not the same, but marketers can often benefit from the wisdom of great sellers and vice versa. Sandler is one such individual; he developed game-changing sales processes in the 1960s and his legacy lives on through Sandler Training. The above quote succinctly encapsulates the combination of emotion and logic that drives purchase decisions.

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Digital Marketing Quotes for the Modern Pro

Like Sandler, Rowley’s expertise is in sales, not marketing, but as a modern selling evangelist she’s been leading the charge for collaboration and convergence. The statement above summarizes why that directive is so crucial in today’s environment. It’s the driving force for account-based marketing and its rapid proliferation.

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“People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” — Simon Sinek

These 12 words pack a whole lot of truth. We are operating in an extremely competitive and crowded environment, so it’s not enough to just sell a company’s products or services anymore. We need to sell narratives and establish a purpose. Sinek’s book Start With Why, which became the basis for one of the most popular TED Talks ever, is all about this idea.  

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“Don’t try to make a product for everybody, because that is a product for nobody.” — Seth Godin

Godin is a veritable treasure trove for memorable, thought-provoking quotes. This one comes from his 2003 book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, which helped solidify his reputation as a tremendously intuitive business mind. Godin quickly realized the most successful brands were those that went beyond the marketer’s traditional checklist of P’s (Pricing, Promotion, Publicity) in search of true differentiators.

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“Build something 100 people love, not something 1 million people kind of like.” — Paul Graham 

This quote is often attributed to Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky, but he himself credits it to Graham, who offered the advice while Chesky was participating in the Y Combinator startup accelerator. Graham’s message echoes the sentiment shared by Godin above (and by Ogilvy earlier): companies and marketers need to orient their offerings and content toward a very specific customer profile, rather than trying to be as appealing as possible to the masses.

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“Think about changing the mantra from always be closing, to always be helping.” — Jonathan Lister

Lister is the VP of Global Sales Solutions at LinkedIn, but his guidance was plenty fitting in the context of Content Marketing World 2013, where he delivered it during a keynote speech. Sales professionals and marketers alike should be changing their focus from selling to helping. The goal is to engage and educate customers, enabling them to find their own way to our solutions. Or, as Drucker would put it, understand those customers well enough that our product fits them and sells itself.

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This quote isn’t specific to marketing but certainly applies to an industry that’s always hungry for new angles, new perspectives, and new horizons. Silver is an analytics guru whose sophisticated statistical models were transformative, first for sports (while he worked with ESPN) and then for politics (when he launched FiveThirtyEight). In a world of endless metrics and measures, marketers are wise to dig deep and search for hidden trends and truths.

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"We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in.” — Craig Davis

We should aim to make every marketing campaign into a destination, rather than an obnoxious obstacle along the way. People don’t engage with content that offers them no value or entertainment, especially when they can easily find both elsewhere. The veteran marketer and keynote speaker Davis drives that point home with this excerpt.

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“Your customers don’t care about you, your products, or your services. They care about themselves.” — Joe Pulizzi

Candid. Blunt. Honest. What else would you expect from Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute and one of the most respected straight shooters in the biz? At the end of the day, human beings are motivated by self-interest. Marketers must recognize this and position themselves accordingly. Customers don’t want to hear about how great your brand is; they want to hear about how you will make their lives better.

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“The billboard is finished only when you no longer can find a single element to remove.” — Robert Fleege

Any quote with the word “billboard” in it might feel outdated, but the underlying premise here can certainly apply to our current digital advertising landscape. The modernized version might be something like, “An ad is finished only when you no longer can find a single element to improve.” Fortunately, we can make tweaks and adjustments online with a few clicks rather than needing to climb up and manually rework a giant physical display along the highway.

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“If you have more money than brains, you should focus on outbound marketing. If you have more brains than money, you should focus on inbound marketing.” — Guy Kawasaki 

Outbound is out. Inbound is in. That’s been the case for a while now, and Kawasaki framed it plainly in his endorsement of Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs, the authoritative 2009 book on the subject by HubSpot founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah. With influencers like these ones leading the way, inbound marketing has become the norm for ROI-minded companies, and this quote puts it in terms anyone can understand.

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Quotes from Content Marketing Experts

“Good content isn’t about storytelling, it’s about telling a truly connective story well.”  — Ann Handley

It’s hard to pick just one content marketing quote from Handley, because she has given us so many over the years as a riveting keynote speaker, best-selling author, and Chief Content Officer for MarketingProfs. She captivates audiences precisely because she practices what she preaches, tying her insights into relatable and compelling anecdotes that draw readers in like a can’t-put-it-down novel.

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“You have to tell a story before you can sell a story.” — Beth Comstock

As a longtime powerful exec with GE, Comstock knows what makes businesses sustain and grow. This quote condenses into a dozen words the vital function of marketing: developing the brand narratives and assets that become fuel for engaging and selling.

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“Content isn’t king, it’s the kingdom.” — Lee Odden

Odden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing, and this line comes from his 2012 book Optimize, in which he laid out the framework of a truly integrated marketing strategy. Flipping the old “content is king” adage into a more accurate modern alternative, he points out that content is not just at the center of the marketing domain; it permeates throughout and touches everything.

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“If your content isn’t driving conversation, you’re doing it wrong.” — Dan Roth

We sometimes see “going viral” treated as a goal, but that’s misguided. The objective should be to create something that gets people talking, because this means you’re challenging your audience and making them think. As LinkedIn’s Editor in Chief recognizes, effective content marketing isn’t just about being seen; it’s about making an impact and moving minds.

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Piersall blogged these prescient words in 2007. They ring all the more true now. Back then, search algorithms were more robotic, and easier to game. Now they’re smarter, and they prioritize results based on deeper signals of user engagement and satisfaction. Rather than stacking keywords, content writers should aim to create something everyone else will love (and link to). At that point, the SEO magic will happen on its own.

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Social Media Marketing Quotes

“Social media is about sociology and psychology more than technology.” — Brian Solis

In this age of frenetic technological advancement, it’s easy to get caught up in the newest trendy tool and lose sight of what social media marketing really is: an opportunity to listen and learn. Solis, one of the industry’s foremost thought leaders, gets it right with this take.

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“Content is fire, and social media is gasoline.” — Jay Baer

A hugely popular author and speaker, Baer is as quotable as they come, but this one might be his magnum opus, appearing on just about every list and compilation of top social media marketing quotes. It’s as profound as it is concise, accurately depicting the explosive potential of stellar content fueled by a savvy social media strategy.  

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“Transparency may be the most disruptive and far-reaching innovation to come out of social media.” — Paul Gillin

From a brand perspective, the advent of social media offered another way to reach customers. But from the other side, it introduced an entirely new dynamic by making this a two-way dialogue. Suddenly, companies needed to open up and present a consistent, authentic personality in an always-on setting. At a time when establishing trust is essential, this is now imperative for B2C as well as B2B, where Gillin largely operates.

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“If anyone pushes back about social ROI, ask your marketing team if they're still buying print.” — Ian Lurie

Proving ROI of your social media marketing efforts isn’t the mystery it once was, but as Clearlink’s executive vice president asserts, the importance of being active on social networks goes beyond monetary benefit. Companies that lack an impressive social media presence risk falling behind the times, and projecting that image outwardly.

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